Comparisons aplenty between 1989 and current Michigan basketball team

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By Daniel Feldman, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 1, 2014

As members of the 1989 Michigan men’s basketball team walked around and reminisced in the Junge Family Champions Center before Saturday’s game, they couldn’t help but find a series of comparisons between their team and current Wolverine squad.

For the 25th anniversary of Michigan’s lone National Championship, the group reunited this weekend for the first time in such a large group since celebrating the 20-year anniversary at Crisler Center back in 2009.

Though the team’s coach, Steve Fisher — who took over for Bill Frieder before the 1989 NCAA Tournament — was absent from the celebration, several players, including former guard Rob Pelinka still remember when they learned Fisher would be taking over.

“We were all in the locker room and Bo Schembechler came in on a foggy, rainy Ann Arbor day in his trench coat and derby hat and his cane,” Pelinka said. “(He) came into the locker room and gave the ‘I want a Michigan man to coach this Michigan team’ speech. And all of us just wanted to run through the locker room wall.”

As a No. 3 seed, the Wolverines advanced to the Final Four in Seattle to eventually face Seton Hall in the championship game. Thanks to free throws by guard Rumeal Robinson with three seconds left in overtime, Michigan beat the Pirates, 80-79.

To Michigan fans, the event stands as a memory they will never forget, but to the college basketball landscape, the Michigan team, and that championship, is sometimes forgotten.

Such is the sentiment to former Wolverine forward Sean Higgins, who puts some of that blame on the notion that “no one expected us to win.”

Some believe they’re forgotten because of the historical and cultural impact of the “Fab Five.” But according to Higgins, the Fab Five did things that resonated with the public more.

True or not, the thing that separates the ’89 team from the Fab Five era teams is simple: one won a championship and one didn’t.

Such a distinction helped the current Wolverine team beat Michigan State, according to Michigan coach John Beilein.

“They helped us beat Michigan State,” he said. When our kids watched that video last week, from the Big Ten Network, that was inspiring to us.”

The group didn’t just help the Wolverines win that game either. This past weekend, members of the ’89 team met with current team, fielding questions about the game at the collegiate level, telling stories from their college days, and most importantly giving advice about how to deal with the stretch the team will face moving forward.

“Those guys walked into our video session at the end last night and six of them talked to our team about being champions,” Beilein said. “And they were focused on being Big Ten Champions. But today in the locker room they sang ‘The Victors.’ They’ve had a big impact on this team. Our kids really admire them. From the top to the bottom.”

Though the ’89 team helped the current team in its pursuit of an outright Big Ten regular-season title and NCAA Tournament run, the team was also here to reminisce about its own accolades and memories as well.

In the case of Demetrius Calip, his Friday night consisted of being called down to the hotel bar at midnight to recount all stories with Michael Griffin until 4 a.m. One such story that he passed along on Saturday was how before the NCAA Tournament began he wrote on a piece of paper “NCAA Champions,” perhaps the predecessor to Mitch McGary’s whiteboard edition “WIN THE GAME!”

Though comparing the two teams in that aspect might be a stretch, something that isn’t is each team’s ability to shoot.

One such former Wolverine that took note of that distinction was Michigan’s all-time leading scorer and the 1989 NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Glen Rice.

“These guys can shoot the ball,” he said. “They can flat out (shoot). If they’re on, they’re probably one of the best basketball teams in the NCAA.”

The group agreed the options that exist within Beilein’s system create for a multitude of open looks for shooters.

So many open looks that Rice even raised the point that he could have broken his school records in it.

Whether the system would have enabled Rice to break his records remains up for debate, something that isn’t is the bond between the team of now and then.

“We’re just like you,” Calip said to the team Friday night. “We are one with you guys. You will be the same way 25 years from now.”